Originally written on College Chalktalk  |  Last updated 10/31/12
On July 1, 2012, the Atlantic 10 and Virginia Commonwealth officially tied the knot as the Rams became a full-fledged member. Exciting times for the Richmond school and its men’s basketball program, in particular, which takes its talents to the top seven league. Since 2002 when Jeff Capel took over, the Rams have been on a roll.  Capel was 79 up and just 41 down in his four seasons and then Anthony Grant’s teams went 76-25 over his three year tenure.  Shaka Smart took the baton and never looked back.  In three campaigns, his teams have compiled an 84-28 record (including a 38-16 CAA conference record) and hung a legendary Final Four banner from the rafters. Perhaps that’s why many publications are predicting a seamless transition to the Atlantic 10, the best basketball-first conference in the country.  Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook predicts the Rams to finish second, Lindy’s predicts the Rams to place fourth, and Athlon Sports calls for a third place finish in the 16 team league. Can the Rams live up to the hype? * * * Smart’s Rams redefine the meaning of perimeter pressure (Credit: VCU Athletics) The CAA is a quality league, but offers only a handful of tough conference games scattered throughout January and February versus at least a dozen in the A10. “I think that will be an interesting thing to look at over the course of the season,” said one CAA coach.  “In the CAA the last few years, there have been a few gimme games mixed in.  Also, VCU had 10,000 of the 11,000 fans in the seats at the CAA Tournament [in Richmond] that they will miss.” Believers point to the fact that VCU is 8-2 against Atlantic 10 teams since 2008-09.  Of course, this 2012-13 VCU season should be sponsored by Baskin Robbins. The Rams play 31 games against 30 different opponents – 14 of those being new A10 opponents with whom VCU is unfamiliar during the grind of January and February. Still, that cuts both ways as A10 foes will have to cram to prepare for VCUs frenetic style that forced an incredible 644 turnovers a season ago and helped VCU pace the nation in turnover margin at plus 6.5. “With what has happened to some of the traditional powerhouses of the A10, they [VCU] are joining at an ideal time,” another CAA coach said. Xavier unquestionably looks down this year.  Snakebitten Saint Louis lost Hall of Fame coach Rick Majerus (for at least the year) and its all-conference point guard in Kwamain Mitchell is shelved for an extended period.  Dayton is integrating transfers and dealing with the year-long suspension of a starter. Though VCU lost a couple of its touted freshmen to partial-qualifier status, these around-the-league developments help VCU’s conference season cause. “I think they have the perfect style of play to have success early on until teams get used to it,” another coach said.  “Their guard play is very good. They make shots.  The question mark is their front line, but their style of play can make up for that.” VCU figures to wreak havoc upon the inexperienced and unsuspecting squads.  It remains to be seen Credit: VCU Athletics whether the style frustrates the upper-echelon squads in the A10, though VCU figures to be buoyed by another factor. “Even though they [VCU] will be facing stiffer competition night-in and night-out, they still have an unbelievable home-court advantage and will be very difficult to beat there,” another coach said.  “I’d be surprised if they lose more than two conference games at home.” No matter how deadly the Rams are at home that’s a lot to ask this season. VCU plays Dayton, Saint Joe’s, La Salle, GW, Fordham, Massachusetts, Butler and Richmond in the friendly confines of the Siegel Center.  Winning 75 percent of the time over that collection of schools which includes three serious NCAA Tournament contenders (Saint Joe’s, UMass, Butler) and three other postseason caliber clubs (Dayton, La Salle, Richmond) would be an impressive feat. And while holding serve at home is important, breaking serve will be the key. If VCU wants to earn a first-round bye in the Atlantic 10 tournament and reward the prognosticators it must prove it can win in the more hostile road environments found in the A10. “The key for VCU is going to be on the road against middle-of-the-pack A10 teams,” said another coach.  In the CAA, there were some half-empty arenas.  That’s not going to happen at St. Bonaventure, a team predicted this year for a mid-pack type finish.  Can VCU take care of business and go at least 4-4 on the road in league play?” With road games at St. Bonaventure, Duquesne, intra-city foe Richmond, URI, Charlotte, Saint Louis, Xavier and Temple a split seems within reach. That would get the Rams to 10-6 in league play. “Is that enough for a top four finish in that league,” one CAA coach asked.  “How much do these A10 teams beat one another up and will 10-6 get you a top four finish? Or do you have to win 11 games… which is a tough task in that league. That’s really the question to me.”     Related Posts:VCU’s Smart: A10 media day triggers rush of adrenaline (VIDEO)Appreciation: VCU’s Will WadeOld-school Martelli, new-school Smart differ on recruiting impact of new A10 television dealThe stretch run at VCU: Will Wade, Asst. CoachJames Madison, Matt Brady, enter make or break season
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